Arsenal boost title credentials with statement win over Liverpool
It was a must-win match as a defeat would’ve left them eight points behind PL leaders Liverpool. Now, the league becomes a proper three-horse race
It was a marquee clash as the Premier League season heads towards its business end, and the battle on the field lived up to the hype.
But as intense as the football was, one of the biggest talking points after Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Liverpool at the Emirates on Sunday was Mikel Arteta’s celebration for his team’s final goal.
Once substitute Leandro Trossard slotted the ball home after a scintillating run down the left flank, Arteta went on a run along the touchline. Seeing him punch the air in jubilation, some were reminded of Jurgen Klopp’s celebrations while others wondered whether his team had secured the title already.
The criticism was perhaps unfair, as Gunners legend Ian Wright later pointed out on social media. Arteta’s passionate outpouring of emotions was the result of a chaotic couple of months.
“He’s our manager, he lives on the pitch with us,” said Declan Rice after the game. “He lives every ball with us and when you have
that and you see what he transmits from the sidelines to the pitch, it gives you so much confidence as a player.”
Make no mistake, it was a must-win match for Arsenal as a defeat would’ve left them eight points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.
When it is the first week of February, that’s the sort of deficit a team hardly ever recovers from.
It was against Liverpool that Arsenal’s dip had begun in December. Until that clash, the Gunners had won 12 and lost just two of their 17 games. Then came a visit to Anfield and they were fortunate to return with a point, which was followed by defeats against West Ham and Fulham. Just one point in three matches left Arsenal in a hole and in desperate need for reset.
After a brief break, they bounced back with wins against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, but it was imperative that they delivered a strong performance in the return fixture at home against Liverpool. For Arsenal to resume their title bid in earnest, they had to get the job done, having faded to second, behind Manchester City, last term.
And that’s exactly what they did. Liverpool were without Mo Salah and skipper Virgil van Dijk was shaky in defence. But Arsenal deserved all the credit for sustaining pressure for the most part. Despite an error at the back leading to the equaliser at the stroke of half time, and despite Liverpool enjoying their best period of play after the break, the hosts maintained composure and were rewarded for it.
Jorginho made a massive impact in midfield. Along with the ever-dependable Declan Rice, the 32-year-old Italian made a number of crucial interceptions and passes to help Arsenal control the midfield. His performance allowed the attackers more space, but more importantly, it stifled the opposition.
“It’s a massive win – a beautiful day,” said Arteta. “We needed a huge performance from the players. I think they delivered that; they’ve put their heart and soul in every ball.
“They did a lot of very good things to control and dominate this team, and then we needed our people as well at their best. Tonight, I think we’ve gone to a different level of what we’ve shown this season. We demanded that, we tried to produce a video to let them know how important they are and how important they needed to be. And when we do that together, we’re a real force.”
Arsenal still remain some way off from winning their first Premier League title in two decades. Liverpool, with Klopp set to depart at the end of this season, still head the table and are likely to make a huge push in the final stages of the season while Manchester City -- the defending champions are third in the table having played two fewer games than Liverpool and Arsenal -- can always be counted on to find their best when it matters most.
But with a convincing win against a key rival, Arsenal have regained momentum. Last season, they squandered a great opportunity towards the end to end up second. This time, they perhaps have more firepower and maturity and it'll come down to the character they show under pressure. If they can do that, as Arteta said, they’ll surely remain a force to be reckoned with.